Rousimar Palhares didn't get the breaks a lot of other fighters had in their long and winding journeys to the UFC. Some had great genes, others had affluent families. Toquinho got to the UFC by being an incredibly hard worker. Something he learned from his father, because it was a necessity. His family was dirt poor, and hard work was all they had. Hywel Teague of ESPN spoke to Palhares about his extremely humble beginnings in Minas Gerais, Brazil:
"My family didn't have anything; very poor conditions, not even a house. The whole family worked on a farm for somebody else. Animals, corn, coffee, rice, beans -- it was a kind of complete farm," he said. "I started work at 8 or 9 years old. The owner made me a manager of my own farm at 14 because I learned everything from my father. By 14, I knew how to take care of a farm."
He might look like a stone cold killer, but a troubled past can bring anyone to their knees when it gets brought up:
Not long after he joined the ranks of the UFC, a story began to circulate that he had once been so poor his family had no choice but to eat pig feed. It's true, but it's not something he's keen to recollect. He'll talk about it, but the pain of the memories is strong. Tears well in this tough-as-teak fighter's eyes and his voice wavers as he describes that time of his life. "I don't like to talk about this, it hurts to remember the past. It was hard, hard times," he said.
This is a guy that slept under a bridge when he moved to Rio de Janeiro to try and start to train. This article doesn't go into some of the other stories about him, but I've heard a bunch over the years. There is an air of mystery about Toquinho that most fighters don't have, because he hasn't addressed a lot of these folk tales so no one really knows if they're legit or not. Like the one about how he used to practice takedowns on cows back on the farms because there was nothing else to use. The most telling one about Murilo Bustamante's generosity was that as soon as he found out Toquinho had no place to live after he started training with Brazilian Top Team, he let him live in the BTT gym. And right from the beginning, Palhares was an absolute monster in that gym.
The article goes on to talk about some of his time at BTT, and gets into his matchup with Dan Miller this weekend at UFC 134 that will be shown on Spike TV. The piece is very compelling and definitely worth a read. It ends with a telling quote from a man that rose from nothing to earn a good life for himself:
"My family, they don't pay rent no more," he said, proudly. "I bought a house for my mother, I gave my family a better life. I built everything in my life with hard work. You can guarantee I will do everything so my children don't have to be like me. I want a better life for them."